Today reminds me a lot of a fateful Tuesday eleven years ago. Beautiful weather: crystal-clear blue sky, bright sunshine, warm and breezy. But that’s just about where the similarities end; in fact, today might as well be happening in an alternate universe compared to that day.
I was 18 years old, living at home during my first semester at a commuter college. With classes from 8am-4pm on Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays, I spent my Tuesdays and Thursdays sleeping in and doing coursework (all. day). Thus, when the telephone rang just minutes before 8am (CST) on Tuesday, September 11, I groggily—and somewhat angrily—picked up the phone to check the caller id. I vividly recall rolling my eyes and making some sort of exasperated teenager grunt when I saw my mom’s work phone number. But I answered anyway.
My mom knows that I’m a little bit of a news junkie; I like hearing the scoop as early as possible. In that regard, I probably should’ve pursued journalism instead of your garden variety English/writing degree. But I digress… She told me there was something going on in New York that sounded like it might be big, so I should probably turn on the TV.
Still not caring too much, I leisurely flipped on the 13-inch screen in my room, figuring I could briefly check it out and fall back to sleep. My timing was such that I apparently tuned in just as the second plane disappeared into the second World Trade Center tower; it was clear that the smoke and flames were young. Panicked news anchors yammered on, but I couldn’t begin to tell you what they were saying. The images themselves ‘spoke’ far more loudly and clearly than any commentary.
While victims and emergency responders scrambled on the screen in front of me, I sat transfixed, motionless. I eventually decided to channel surf and see what other networks were covering; about the time I landed on CBS, I heard Bryant Gumbel say something to the effect of, “My God! They’ve hit the Pentagon. Washington is under attack.”
All I could think to mutter was, “Oh, Jesus, help our country.” When the phone rang again, my dad—who works for the federal government—said he would be headed home early and that I should plan to stay at home for the day. He didn’t want me out and about.
Hearing the concern in my dad’s voice elicited more fear in me. I immediately let in the family dogs from the backyard; in retrospect, I don’t know if I was hoping to rescue them from whatever scary unknown might be lurking outside or if I just didn’t want to be alone.
I remember the anxious speculation that the towers might collapse; each horrifying transpiration of this seemed to happen in slow motion. Images of dust- and blood-covered people are seared into my memory. I can’t begin to imagine what nightmares plague actual eyewitnesses.
About an hour after air traffic was said to have been grounded, I heard an airplane pass overhead. With all of my senses on high alert, the sound that I’ve heard my entire life became altogether eerie. My 18-yr-old self could think of no prime targets here in middle America, but that assumption provided little consolation.
The remainder of my alone time was spent sobbing in front of the television. Giant hugs awaited the homecoming of each of my parents. The United States of tomorrow remained uncertain.
But life slowly began to return to normal, as it always does. Hours, days and eventually years distanced us from the tragedy. The fears have lessened, and so too have some of the memories. The United States of today offers a new sort of normal, particularly for victims and their families; not altogether different, but no less changed. I pray I never live to see a day when we forget the resultant resolve and pride of September 11, 2001—it is only on that day that the enemy can claim victory.